May 4, 2013 11:04:39 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Former Penn State University quarterback Steven Bench said there's "mutual interest" in the possibility he will transfer to Mississippi State University.
Bench, who announced last week he planned to transfer from Penn State, confirmed Friday night in a phone interview with The Dispatch reports MSU is a possible destination are "very accurate." NCAA rules restrict the MSU coaches from commenting on the recruiting of a player not on their roster. According to a ESPN.com report, Bench is considering the University of South Florida and MSU. MSU's 247Sports.com reporter Paul Jones was the first to report Bench's interest in the Bulldogs.
"I want to feel comfortable at my new school and academics will play a part into it," Bench said. "Atmosphere will play a part in the decision because I got to live for the next three or four years. I want to feel at home, I want to have fun, and I want to get a good education."
While Bench declined to comment on specific interaction with the coaching staff or if MSU has offered him a scholarship, he said he'll have a "better understanding next weekend of my decision and what steps I need to take."
USF, which is coming off a 3-9 season, is expected to allow Bench to compete with third-year sophomore Matt Floyd for the starting quarterback position this season.
"I'm not against being away from home even though with the reports out there that I'm deciding between schools closer than say, Penn State from where I am in Georgia," said Bench, who is from Cairo, Ga. "I want everyone to know I'm open to any school and any situation. That's sounds like a cliché, but it's the truth."
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Bench appeared in two games for the Nittany Lions last season, completing 2 of 8 passes for 12 yards. He was a three-star recruit out of high school, and under the sanctions the NCAA levied against Penn State as a result of its investigation into former coach Jerry Sandusky he is able to play immediately and will have three years of eligibility remaining. Bench said he decided to leave Penn State because he was under the impression junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and incoming freshman recruit Christian Hackenberg would compete for the starting quarterback role in fall camp. Ferguson and Bench split first-team reps in spring practices last month.
"I want a shot to compete for playing time wherever I go to school next," Bench said. "I want a fair opportunity to earn playing time. If we were to take the academics out of the equation and talk about on the field, I'm going to my new school to play football. Not watch football being played."
Bench said he will be in San Diego today to work with quarterback coach George Whitfield at his academy for the entire week. Whitfield has become highly respected for training quarterbacks in the offseason and preparing them for the NFL draft. This spring, Whitfield, a former college and Arena League quarterback, trained draft picks Landry Jones and Matt Scott. He also has trained former No. 1 picks Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. He also works with current college players in the offseason, including 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, of Texas A&M University, Ohio State University's Braxton Miller, and Clemson University's Tajh Boyd.
"When I fly back home next weekend from San Diego, I'll have a much better understanding of what the next step will be in my decision," Bench said. "Then I'll start to see if I can schedule some campus visits with the schools I want to seriously consider."
Bench mentioned unprompted he had a redshirt year remaining that he'd be willing to take to learn the playbook and to develop chemistry with his new teammates. Bench said fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell being projected as MSU's starter this season wouldn't work against MSU.
If Bench were to pick MSU, it could give the Bulldogs five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster (Russell, redshirt sophomore Dak Prescott, Bench and freshman signees Cord Sandberg and Damian Williams). With Sandberg's stock in the upcoming Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft in June rising, Bench could provide stability and competition for Prescott this season as a backup. He also could compete for the starting role after Russell graduates. After Prescott's surgery on the big toe of his left foot, Russell was MSU's only healthy scholarship quarterback in the spring.
"I understand that if it were to be Mississippi State, not saying that it will be or they're leading in this thing, (that) Tyler Russell is the starter," Bench said. "If I end up at MSU, I want a chance at some point to go in and compete for a starting job. If that's at MSU and then Tyler Russell is the starter then maybe that next spring, I would get a fair shot to start from then on. I will remind everybody I have a redshirt year to use and I'm willing to do that, too, if I need to to get myself ready to be the starting quarterback for the following three years."